J.J. Spaun of Los Angeles and San Diego State didn’t win on the PGA Tour until the Valero Texas Open in April, and now he’s in position to do it again after at least sharing the lead at the end of each of the last three days.
The 31-year-old Spaun carded a 2-under-par 68 and will take a one-stroke lead over Sepp Straka of Austria into the final round of the FedEx St. Jude Championship, first event of the playoffs, at TPC Southwind in Memphis, Tenn.
Players who are in the top 70 of the FedEx Cup point standings when the tournament ends on Sunday will advance to the BMW Championship next week at Wilmington Country Club in Wilmington, Del., and the best 30 after that one will qualify for the season-ending Tour Championship the following week at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta.
“I made nine straight pars at the beginning and that’s better than making bogeys,” said Spaun, who didn’t make his first birdie in round three until the 11th hole. “I was just trying to keep things in perspective and use it to my advantage because I was still right up there. The most important thing was that I didn’t make any big mistakes.
“I’m going to try to do the same things going into tomorrow, but I know it’s going to be tough because there are some really good players up there right behind me, major champions and multiple winners. I just have to stay patient, take my time and keep doing what I have been doing the first three days.
“I just can’t play scared and have to stay in the moment to give myself a chance to win after we add them all up.”
Spaun, who opened with 62-67, got off to a slow start in the third round when he had nine pars on the front side before making his only bogey at No. 10, but then he had three birdies the rest of the way including at Nos. 16 and 17 to finish 54 holes at 13-under 197.
Straka, whose only PGA Tour victory came in the Honda Classic earlier this season, was tied for the lead until making a bogey on the last hole to also finish at 68.
“I hadn’t played well coming into this week, but that’s just golf,” said Straka, who missed the cut in his last six starts. “You just have to keep going and figure you will turn it around at some point, and that’s what’s happened this week.”
Will Zalatoris, the 2020-21 Rookie of the Year, followed a 63 by shooting 65 with four birdies on the back nine and is two shots down in a tie for third with second-ranked Cameron Smith of Australia, winner of the Open Championship at St. Andrews who finished at 67, and Trey Mullinax, who birdied two of the last three holes for a 66.
“I avoided the bunkers and that made a big difference because I had nine plugs the first two days, but was able to keep the ball out of there this time,” said Zalatoris, 25, who is seeking his first PGA Tour victory. “Plus, today I was able to roll in some putts, so it was kind of wild.
“All of my shots today went toward the flags and I got a lot out of my game. All the work I did the last two days paid off.”
Tyler Duncan birdied four of the first sixth holes en route to a 67 and is one more down in a tie for sixth with Troy Merritt, who wound up at 70.
Tenth-ranked Matthew Fitzpatrick of England had two late birdies for a 67 and is four strokes behind in a huge tie for eighth with 11th-ranked Sam Burns, who made three birdies on the last four holes in another 67; Sungjae Im of South Korea, who sank a 13-foot eagle putt on the third hole and had six birdies in a 63; Hayden Buckley, who collected seven birdies in a 65; Wyndham Clark, who had a 14-foot eagle putt at No. 3 in a 67; Andrew Putnam of Pepperdine, who also had a 67; Ryan Palmer and Brian Harman, who both wound up at 69; and Tony Finau, the defending champion in the playoff opener who has won his last two starts and also came in at 69.
Eighth-ranked Collin Morikawa of La Canada Flintridge and Cal is tied for 17th after a 66, while sixth-ranked Jon Rahm of Spain shot 67 and is tied for 25th, and ninth-ranked Viktor Hovland of Norway had three late birdies in another 67 and is tied for 29th.
Seventh-ranked Justin Thomas totaled 71 and is tied for 36th, while fourth-ranked Patrick Cantlay of Los Alamitos and UCLA is tied for 44th after another 71, fifth-seeded Xander Schauffele of La Jolla and San Diego State, the 2021 Olympic Gold Medalist, struggled to a 73 and is tied for 61st.
For complete results and the projected FedEx Cup point totals, visit https://www.pgatour.com/leaderboard.html